The paper reassesses the model of scientific success on the periphery advanced in Nancy Leys Stepan’s analysis of the Oswaldo Cruz Institute in Beginnings of Brazilian Science by looking at a comparable, though ultimately less successful, bacteriological research facility in Havana Cuba in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The Instituto Histobacteriológico y de Vacunación Antirrábica de la Crónica Médico-Quirúrgica de la Habana was a private initiative sustained by wealthy Cuban ophthalmologist Juan Santos Fernández y Hernández. At the center of attempts to establish a creole scientific sovereignty during the late Spanish Empire, the institute brought together a dynamic research team and collaborated with leading international figures in microbiology. The second Cuban War of Independence interrupted the institute’s research momentum and the US occupation government created a new state laboratory facility, displacing the Instituto from its position at the apex of scientific life in the new republic and leading to its demise. No comparable facility capable of undertaking original medical research took its place. The roles of timing and political process are emphasized as key variables in achieving scientific success on the periphery.

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